The patron saint of the Aggies, Gene Stallings, had not heard about Johnny Manziel’s Time Magazine cover story when I reached him Friday morning. Stallings, who lives on a ranch outside of Paris, Texas, was on his tractor trying to get some work done before lunch.
“This has to be a short one,” he politely said about the interview request.
The Time story centered on whether it was time for college athletes to make a portion of the money they generate for college athletic programs. An NCAA investigation into Manziel’s involvement with autograph brokers made him the unwitting catalyst for change. But Stallings, who played and coached at Texas A&M and eventually served on the Board of Regents, has some old-school beliefs on this issue.
“In the eyes of the court, there’s no difference in a college volleyball player, a golfer, a tennis player, baseball player or football player,” he said. “It just goes on and on. I understand they want to make money. But what’s wrong with working in the summer? I worked in the oil fields every summer when I was playing. This is not professional sports, and folks are losing sight of that.”
Stallings is a huge admirer of Manziel’s unique skills on the field, but he admitted to being disappointed with how the quarterback conducted himself this past offseason. That said, he defended Manziel throughout the NCAA’s investigation.
“I don’t think we’ve done Johnny a favor by quote ‘getting him off.’ If he did something he wasn’t supposed to do, he should pay the price,” Stallings told me Friday. “But since the NCAA looked into it and didn’t find anything wrong, then I’m going to believe that.”
Stallings was traveling last Saturday and wasn’t able to see the Rice game live. But he watched several replays of Manziel’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and subsequent sideline encounter with head coach Kevin Sumlin. That’s the moment that truly caught Stallings’ attention.
“I couldn’t tell exactly what happened,” Stallings said. “I couldn’t tell if what Sumlin said required an answer from Manziel. I just can’t imagine that if Sumlin wanted his attention, he wouldn’t at least turn around and acknowledge him.”
Stallings met Manziel once during a speaking engagement in Birmingham.
“He conducted himself extremely well,” he said.
Stallings has heard the stories about how Manziel’s parents were critical of Texas A&M and Sumlin. He said he only had to deal with that level of parental involvement once.
“I had a player in the 1960s who was starting as a sophomore,” Stallings said. “His mom called and told me that he could also play offense. I just told her he was doing pretty good starting as a sophomore, and that was it.”
You get the feeling that Stallings doesn’t envy Sumlin, even if the money’s a little better these days.